In their report and recommendations, the RCFV noted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people disproportionately experience family violence, and face unique barriers to accessing assistance.325 The RCFV has detailed the issues and injustices experienced by Aboriginal people that have had a profound and lasting effect.
Dhelk Dja: Safe our way – Strong Culture, Strong Peoples, Strong Families (Dhelk Dja Agreement) defines family violence in the context of Aboriginal communities as ‘an issue focused around a wide range of physical, emotional, sexual, social, spiritual, cultural, psychological and economic abuses that occur within families, intimate relationships, extended families, kinship networks and communities. It extends to one-on-one fighting, abuse of Indigenous community workers as well as self-harm, injury and suicide.’ The Dhelk Dja Agreement’s definition of family violence also acknowledges the impact of violence by non-Aboriginal people against Aboriginal partners, children, young people and extended family on spiritual and cultural rights, which presents as exclusion or isolation from Aboriginal culture and/or community. The Dhelk Dja Agreement’s definition includes elder abuse and the use of lateral violence within Aboriginal communities. It also emphasises the impact of family violence on children and young people.326
The findings of the RCFV highlighted that while data currently available indicates an overrepresentation of Aboriginal people affected by family violence, there are considerable inadequacies in the collection of data concerning Aboriginal people across agencies and departments. This hinders our full understanding of the extent of family violence experienced by Aboriginal people.
One of the RCFV recommendations focussed on the “[improvement of] the collection of Indigenous specific data relating to family violence”.327 In addressing this recommendation, this section of the framework will outline some of the family violence issues faced by Aboriginal people, challenges in collecting data, information gaps, and the existing national standard for the collection of Indigenous status. Finally, a number of recommendations have been made to assist agencies in the collection of data concerning Indigenous status and interim solutions that can be used to improve analysis and reporting of the data currently available.
Terminology and definitions
Nationally, the term ‘Indigenous’ has been used to describe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across all state and territory jurisdictions. Therefore, the nationally endorsed question used to determine whether a person is Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander is called the Standard Indigenous Question (SIQ), and the collected variable is often referred to as ‘Indigenous status’. As noted by the ABS, the term ‘Indigenous’ is not a specific descriptor and some Aboriginal people feel the term diminishes their identity or fails to recognise the cultural diversity that exists within the collective population.328 For the purposes of this section, the term ‘Indigenous’ is used only when referring to the collected variable ‘Indigenous status’. Otherwise, the term ‘Aboriginal’ is used, and this refers to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Family violence and Aboriginal communities
The RCFV identified people from Aboriginal communities to be a priority when considering service response to family violence events, due in part to the prevalence of family violence affecting Aboriginal people, the types of family violence experienced, and the profound impact that colonisation has had on the psychological, social and economic outcomes for people in these communities.
Family violence is not part of Aboriginal culture, and Aboriginal cultural ways are based on strong families and kinship systems. As noted by Djirra (formerly the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria or ‘FVPLS Victoria’) in their submission to the RCFV, “there are multiple complex and diverse factors contributing to the high levels and severity of family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and it must be clearly understood that the causes do not derive from Aboriginal culture”.329 Additionally, it is important to highlight that not all perpetrators of family violence towards Aboriginal people are Aboriginal themselves. In their submission to the RCFV, Djirra stated that it routinely sees clients, mostly women, who experience family violence at the hands of men from a range of different backgrounds and cultures, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.330
Despite gaps in data collected on family violence in Aboriginal communities, the information that is available clearly identifies an over-representation of Aboriginal women and children who are affected by family violence. Based on the 2014-15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), approximately 2 in 3 Aboriginal women (63%) and 1 in 3 Aboriginal men (35%) who had experienced physical violence in the previous year, reported that the perpetrator of the most recent incident was a family member, including a current or previous partner.331
The RCFV highlighted in their report that Aboriginal women and children experience greater family violence than other members of the community. Regardless of where they live, Aboriginal women are one of the groups at highest risk of family violence in Victoria.332 It has been estimated that Victorian Aboriginal women are 45 times more likely to experience family violence than non-Aboriginal women.333 When giving evidence to the RCFV, Antoinette Braybrook, the Chief Executive Officer of Djirra, stated that although they provide services to all Aboriginal victims, 93 percent of their clients are women.334
The link between family violence and child removal was consistently identified in RCFV submissions, consultations and evidence as an area where urgent attention is required,335 and research has found that men’s violence against women is a primary driver in up to 95% of Aboriginal children entering out-of-home care.336
In their 2018 report ‘Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia’, the AIHW highlighted the high prevalence of family violence experienced by Aboriginal people, and noted that:337
- Two in five Aboriginal homicide victims were killed by a current or former partner, compared with one in five non-Aboriginal homicide victims.
- Aboriginal women were 32 times, and Aboriginal men 23 times, as likely to be hospitalised due to family violence as non-Aboriginal women and men.
Contributing circumstances and specific presentations of family violence risk
There are a number of overlapping circumstances which may contribute to and shape the experience of family violence for people from Aboriginal communities. Many of these factors may stem from the current and historical impact of colonisation and systemic discrimination against Aboriginal people.
The RCFV noted that one of the 11 guiding principles set out in the Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Task Force report is the recognition that “from an Indigenous perspective the causes of family violence are located in the history and impacts of white settlement and the structural violence of race relations since then”.338 The RCFV further detailed findings from consultations, submissions and evidence which noted the effect that white settlement, the Stolen Generations, and the devastation of Aboriginal cultures have had on Victorian Aboriginal communities.339 It is therefore important to examine family violence as it affects Aboriginal people within the context of the lasting impact of colonisation, and dispossession of land and culture.
This includes consideration of:340
- inter-generational trauma
- dispossession of land
- forced removal of children
- interrupted cultural practices that mitigate against interpersonal violence
- disproportionate rates of criminalisation and incarceration
- economic exclusion and poverty
- systemic and indirect racism
In their 2018 report, the AIHW noted that in addition to experiencing overall higher rates of family violence, Aboriginal people may be subjected to higher rates of physical violence and sexual abuse.
According to the 201415 NATSISS, 22% of Aboriginal Australians aged 15 and older reported experiencing physical or threatened physical violence.341 In addition, based on the ABS 2016 recorded crime data, Aboriginal Australians were up to 3.4 times as likely to be the victim of sexual assault as non-Aboriginal Australians.342 The AIHW report also highlighted that Aboriginal people were more likely to experience image-based abuse, which occurs when intimate or sexual photos or videos are shared online without consent.343
Under-reporting and barriers to accessing services
Aboriginal people face a wide array of complex and compounding barriers to reporting family violence and accessing support services.344 These include a fear of the consequences of reporting, lack of access to support services, mistrust of government and the legal system, and discrimination and racism.345 In some rural areas, people may not be able to find nearby services. When Aboriginal people access mainstream services, they may encounter discrimination, and language and cultural barriers.346
The RCFV heard that high rates of child removal and child protection intervention deter some Aboriginal women from disclosing family violence or seeking assistance.347 They also heard that Aboriginal women’s fear of having their children removed was not sufficiently understood by child protection workers.348
Why do we need to collect Aboriginal information?
Without accurate and consistent collection of data on Aboriginal people, it is difficult to determine the prevalence of family violence in these communities. While the existing data reveals an overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the family violence system, limited and inconsistent data collection means that this proportion may be even greater. It was noted during the RCFV that “the collection of data about Aboriginal family violence by agencies is generally poor”,349 and that there are gaps both in existing survey and administrative data which affect our current understanding of family violence experienced by Aboriginal people. Comparable collection and recording of Indigenous status in administrative data are essential for informing service demand and measuring service effectiveness, and reliable data are required for planning, developing policies and making improvements in service delivery.350 Examples of gaps in information which currently exist are noted below.
Gaps in information
The RCFV found that the lack of data collection regarding Indigenous status is a significant concern in relation to the flow-on effect for service provision. If Indigenous status is not collected in the context of a family violence incident, then this information will not be included in formal referrals. This means that existing mechanisms to notify ACCOs cannot be deployed.351
Often, Indigenous status is only collected from one member involved in or seeking a service regarding a family violence incident. Where possible and appropriate, Indigenous status should be collected from all parties involved. The RCFV heard that there were many instances where Aboriginal children were not identified as such.352 As noted previously in the ‘Children and young people’ section, details about children affected by family violence are either not collected, or exist in case notes and therefore cannot be suitably used for data analysis. This approach not only devalues the impact of family violence on a child, but it also compromises the quality of administrative data collected. If information about children is not collected, Aboriginal children and young people will continue to be underrecorded in administrative data.
Gaps in survey data
In Australia, there are a number of surveys which collect information on the health and welfare of Aboriginal people. Despite these efforts, information concerning family violence and Aboriginal people is limited as information collected often does not directly examine the occurrence of family violence. The ABS NATSISS collects detailed information on a range of social issues including self-assessed health, disability, social networks, physical violence and safety. However, the survey was not designed to specifically capture all types of family violence and as such, results cannot reliably inform about rates and types of family violence affecting Aboriginal people. By contrast, the ABS Personal Safety Survey (PSS) is a key measure in Australia which examines the prevalence of family, domestic and sexual violence in the general population. However, because of the small sample size of this survey, it does not collect many data items which identify specific communities, including Indigenous status. The ABS Crime Victimisation Survey (CVS) is a broader survey which collects information about people’s experiences of crime victimisation. While this survey does collect Indigenous status, information collected about family violence is limited to physical assault and threats.
Challenges in current data collection practices
Prior experiences of discrimination and racism may result in reluctance to identify as Aboriginal due to fear of negative consequences, particularly when it is unclear what the information will be used for and how it is pertinent to the delivery of a service.353 A review undertaken by the ABS in 2014 highlighted that many Aboriginal people did not understand why the question was being asked or what the response would be used for, which could lead to unwillingness to answer the question.354 Additionally, Aboriginal people may be reluctant to identify if they do not believe that an agency will provide culturally sensitive services or treatment.
Practice of referring clients to Aboriginal-specific services
An important aspect of self-determination is that Aboriginal people have the right to choose to receive services from ACCOs where they are available.355 However, it was noted by the RCFV that when Aboriginal people access non-community specific services, an assumption is sometimes made by a service that the person should use a community-specific service.356 Inability to access mainstream services can conjure feelings of rejection and discourage Aboriginal people from seeking assistance in the future.357 Agencies and service providers should therefore ensure that Aboriginal people are given a choice regarding whether they would prefer to receive service from an ACCO or a mainstream service, rather than make an assumption based on a person’s collected Indigenous status.
Broader definitions of family violence used by Aboriginal communities
In the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) (FVPA), the term ‘family member’ is defined broadly to include intimate partners, relatives and ‘familial-like’ relationships. The FVPA states that “a relative for an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person includes a person who, under Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander tradition or contemporary social practice,358 is the person’s relative”. Aboriginal people may therefore view family violence as occurring between members of their larger family and kinship networks, including aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and others in the wider community, whereas non-Aboriginal people may view family violence less broadly.359 Extensive family kinship relationships in Aboriginal communities may make it difficult to distinguish between family and general violence, which in turn may affect the ability of non-community specific services to identify family violence for these communities.
Data collection standard for collecting information from Aboriginal communities
Indigenous Status Standard – Standard Indigenous Question (SIQ)
The framework recommends the use of the national Indigenous Status Standard, which was developed by the ABS. As previously noted, the nationally endorsed question in this ABS Standard is called the Standard Indigenous Question (SIQ), and the collected variable is often referred to as ‘Indigenous status’. The definition of Indigenous status in the ABS Standard is “whether or not a person identifies as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander”.360 The SIQ is used in ABS data collections and has been adopted by other government agencies across Australia.361
A person’s Indigenous status is determined by their self-reported response to the ABS SIQ. Various articulations of the standard question can be found on the ABS website,362 and the standard question module is presented below.
Question phrasing and response categories
Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin? (For persons of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin, mark both ‘Yes’ boxes).
Standard answer categories
The response categories should not include abbreviations such as ‘ATSI’ and ‘TSI’ as these can be considered offensive. In addition, the terms ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘Torres Strait Islander’ must be capitalised. Although ‘prefer not to say’ is not actually included in the standard question module for the ABS SIQ, it is valid that a person may refuse to answer the SIQ, so a ‘prefer not to say’ option is recommended.
Where appropriate, agencies and service providers should consider asking a person whether they are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin each time they come into contact with a service. It is reasonable to assume that a person’s willingness to self-identify as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin may change over time, and therefore, information should continue to be collected even if a person comes into repeat contact with a service, and should be stored appropriately so a history of responses can be kept. For more information about the development and application of the SIQ, please see the AIHWs paper on ‘National best practice guidelines for collecting Indigenous status in health datasets’.363
Considerations in asking the SIQ
It has been previously noted in the framework that ongoing organisational change and staff training relating to inclusive practice is vital, and that Aboriginal people have a right to culturally safe services. It is important to avoid making assumptions about how a person identifies, and staff need to be trained in how to sensitively and respectfully collect data from Aboriginal people. Many ACCOs are already working co-operatively with mainstream organisations on top of already significant demands.364 For information regarding organisations which offer Aboriginal cultural awareness and cultural safety training, please refer to ‘Training and resources’ at the end of this section.
|What is cultural safety?|
|A culturally safe environment is one where services are provided in a manner that is respectful of a person’s culture and beliefs, and that is free from discrimination. To ensure that an environment is culturally safe, mainstream service providers are required to analyse their organisational culture and ensure that it does not have a negative impact on the cultural rights of Aboriginal communities. This right is supported by Victorian and national legal instruments which uphold the rights of Aboriginal people.365|
Aligning Aboriginal data collection to the SIQ
To ensure consistency and comparability across data sources, the best practice method for collecting Indigenous status data is to align to the national SIQ. In order to do this, an agency or service provider should take into account the following four elements.
(1) question phrasing and formatting
(2) response categories and formatting
(3) frequency of asking the question (for example, each time people come into contact with a service)
(4) the ability to account for people changing their response over time.
Where possible, efforts should be made to improve the collection of Indigenous status data to align with the national standard.
Training and resources
In order for organisations to be able to collect data from Aboriginal people in a respectful and sensitive way, organisations need to ensure that their policies and procedures are inclusive of Aboriginal people, and that staff are trained in practices that are culturally appropriate. The list of organisations below is not exhaustive, but seeks to provide some valuable resources for agencies and service providers in Victoria. Please note that many of the organisations listed have limited funding available for the services they provide. Thus, the training noted here may not be available on an ongoing basis. The information below is sourced from the websites of the organisations listed.
Centre for Cultural Competence Australia
Koorie Heritage Trust
Providers of half-day and full day face to face training in building Aboriginal cultural competency, including introductory training, and training in policy, partnership and leadership.
Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA)
VACCA’s Training and Development Unit offer a range of programs to organisations working in the field of child and family welfare, to strengthen relationships with Aboriginal organisations, families and communities. For more information about the external training workshops currently offered, see details below.
Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation Inc (VACCHO)
VACCHO’s Aboriginal cultural safety training builds on cultural awareness training and provides practical tips and skills that can be utilised to improve practice and behaviour, which assist in making Aboriginal people feel safe.
Cultural safety team:
Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association Ltd (VACSAL)
Whilst VACSAL’s core business relates to advocacy and community service provision, an important part of VACSAL’s work relates to the design and delivery of cultural awareness programs. VACSAL have developed considerable expertise in the customisation and delivery of these programs.
Djirra (formerly the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria)
Djirra’s Koori Women’s Place is located in Melbourne, and provides Aboriginal women with a place to connect with lawyers, join in cultural and social activities, and get personalised support from Aboriginal women who can accompany women to appointments, set up referrals and be trusted companions to women facing the challenges of family violence. Djirra offer a range of support services, as well as providing community education and early intervention and prevention programs.
Indigenous Status Standard
National best practice guidelines for collecting Indigenous status in health data sets
The website below contains links to several valuable resources including best practice guidelines created by the AIHW, which document the recommended national approach to collecting and recording Indigenous status in health services. It also contains a link to a training tool for staff in the form of a 12 question spreadsheet, designed to assess staff knowledge relating to the collection of Indigenous data.
National Indigenous Data Improvement Support Centre (NIDISC)
325 RCFV 2016, Volume 5 Report and recommendations, p.7.
326 Department of Health and Human Services, Dhelk Dja: Safe Our Way: Strong Culture, Strong Peoples, Strong Families,
327 State Government of Victoria, Improve the collection of Indigenous specific data relating to family violence, viewed 22 June 2018,
328 ABS 2014, 1200.0.55.008 Indigenous Status Standard, 2014, version 1.5, viewed 22 June 2018,
329 Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria 2015, Submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, no. 941, p.22, viewed 22 June 2018,
331 ABS 2016, 4714.0 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2014-15, viewed 22 June 2018,
332 Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria 2015, Submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, no. 941, p.13, viewed 22 June 2018,
333 Dwyer, J & Miller, R 2014, Working with families where an adult is violent: Best interests case practice model, Victorian Government Department of Human Services, Melbourne.
334 RCFV 2016, Volume 5 Report and recommendations, p.12.
335 Ibid p.24.
336 Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria 2015, Submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, no. 941, p.16, viewed 22 June 2018,
337 AIHW 2018, Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia 2018, Cat. no. FDV 2, Canberra, p.83.
338 Aboriginal Affairs Victoria 2003, Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Task Force Final Report, Department for Victorian Communities, State of Victoria, p.6.
339 RCFV 2016, Volume 5 Report and recommendations, p.10.
340 Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria 2015, Submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, no. 941, p.23, viewed 22 June 2018,
341 AIHW 2018, Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia 2018, Cat. no. FDV 2, Canberra, p.86.
343 Ibid p.87.
344 Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria 2015, Submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, no. 941, p.23, viewed 22 June 2018,
345 RCFV 2016, Volume 5 Report and recommendations, p.28.
346 Ibid p.29.
347 Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, Royal Commission into Family Violence: Submission paper from the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, no. 826, p.12, viewed 22 June 2018,
348 Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria 2015, Submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, no. 941, p.53, viewed 22 June 2018,
349 RCFV 2016, Volume 5 Report and recommendations, p.29.
350 AIHW 2010, National best practice guidelines for collecting Indigenous status in health data sets, Cat. no. IHW 29, Canberra.
351 RCFV 2016, Volume 5 Report and recommendations, p.56.
352 Ibid p.27.
353 Kelaher, M, Parry, A, Day, S, Paradies, Y, Lawlor, J & Solomon, L, 2010, Improving the Identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in Mainstream General Practice, The Lowitja Institute, Melbourne, p.75.
354 ABS 2014, 4733.0 Information Paper: Review of the Indigenous Status Standard, 2014, viewed 22 June 2018,
355 Family Safety Victoria 2017, Family Violence Information Sharing Guidelines: Guidelines for Information Sharing Entities, Victorian Government, Melbourne, p.84.
356 RCFV 2016, Volume 5 Report and recommendations, p.29.
358 The FVPA defines Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tradition as (a) ‘the body of traditions, observances, customs and beliefs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people generally or of a particular community or group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and (b) any such traditions, observances, customs or beliefs relating to particular persons, areas, objects or relationships’.
359 Al-Yaman, F, Van Doeland, M, Wallis, M 2006, Family violence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Cat no. IHW 17, AIHW, Canberra.
360 ABS 2014, 1200.0.55.008 Indigenous Status Standard, 2014, version 1.5, viewed 22 June 2018,
363 AIHW 2010, National best practice guidelines for collecting Indigenous status in health data sets, Cat. no. IHW 29, Canberra.
364 RCFV 2016, Volume 5 Report and recommendations, p.35.
365 Ibid p.34.
Reviewed 10 May 2021